Rising to the Challenge

January 22, 2021
Topics: Donors, Pediatric Research, About Us

Riley Chooses Joy Full Size 2021.22.1

Despite all of the uncertainty that the year 2020 brought, the team at Riley Hospital for Children at IU Health continued to do what they do best: care for Riley kids and their families with skill and compassion. While we’re excited to see what 2021 brings, it’s worth revisiting just a few of the biggest stories of 2020.

These milestones would not have been possible without the support of generous donors.


When COVID-19 emerged in Indiana, the team at Riley sprung to action. They rushed in to treat kids who contracted the virus and worked around the clock to keep others safe.

And at time when group gatherings aren't possible – and when necessary visitor restrictions limit interactions with siblings and other family members – teams like Child Life developed creative new ways to provide support and comfort. From in-room crafts, to engaging programming on the hospital's in-house TV network, to robots that allowed for virtual visits from Indianapolis Colts players, Riley staff made sure kids didn’t feel alone.

When families and staff at Riley needed help, our donors answered the call. The Riley Relief Fund provided emergency assistance to Riley families facing financial hardships due to the coronavirus crisis. The fund also helped expand the chaplaincy program so patients and staff have additional emotional and spiritual support, purchased technology to help the school program adapt to virtual teaching, and helped launch a food pantry within Riley.


In June, U.S. News & World Report confirmed what Riley kids, families and supporters have long known: Riley Hospital for Children at IU Health is among the top children’s hospitals in the country. And it remains the only nationally ranked children’s hospital in Indiana.

For 2020-21, Riley is one of only 24 pediatric hospitals in the country to be ranked in 10 out of 10 pediatric specialties. Riley’s urology program placed second in the nation, and its cardiology and heart surgery program placed fifth. Riley is also nationally ranked in: Cancer, Diabetes & Endocrinology, Gastroenterology & GI Surgery, Neonatology, Nephrology, Neurology & Neurosurgery, Orthopedics and Pulmonology.


Riley-affiliated researchers pushed ahead with important projects aimed at improving care for kids with cancer, heart disease, diabetes, asthma and other life-threatening and life-altering conditions. The pediatrics research program – a partnership between Riley and Indiana University School of Medicine --continues to be ranked among the top 10 nationally in grant funding received from the National Institutes of Health. Notable research achievements from 2020 include:

  • In April, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved the first drug available to treat the majority of patients with neurofibromatosis type 1 (NF1), a genetic disorder which can cause disfiguring and sometimes life-threatening tumors to grow on nerves throughout the body. D. Wade Clapp, M.D., chair of the Department of Pediatrics at IU School of Medicine and physican-in-chief at Riley, has led national research related to disease that helped pave the way for the therapy.

  • Nancy Swigonski, M.D., and Mary Ciccarelli, M.D., developed a statewide early screening and evaluation system for autism spectrum disorder. In a study published in the journal Pediatrics in 2020, they demonstrated success in improving access to evaluations and lowering the age of diagnosis. The study was the first of its kind in the United States to include health care systems across an entire state.

  • Riley-affiliated scientists flexed to focus on the coronavirus. Researchers studied how our immune system responds to COVID, examined in the virus' spread among children, and tested candidate drugs. Through their work, they contributed to the global effort to beat back COVID.


Indiana has historically had one of the nation's highest infant mortality rates – consistently ranking in the top 10. As the state's only comprehensive children's hospital, Riley is committed to serving as a leader in Indiana's response to this crisis. Riley created the Maternity and Newborn Health program to fight infant and maternal mortality, and link maternity services with pediatric services for a complete continuum of care.

The program made important strides in 2020.

In March 2020, the Riley Fetal Center relocated to the Riley Outpatient Center, expanding its footprint with additional private exam rooms and ultrasound suites. The Fetal Center is where Maternal-Fetal Medicine physicians, neonatologists and pediatric subspecialists come together in one central location to provide coordinated care for expectant mothers with complicated or high-risk pregnancies, including for unborn babies with suspected birth defects and high-risk fetal conditions.

Meanwhile, construction continued on the new Maternity Tower, which will open at Riley Hospital for Children in fall 2021 and bring care for mothers and babies under one roof. As a result, mothers and their newborns can remain together in one location, regardless of the complexity of their medical needs.

Riley experts also shared their expertise outside the hospital. They conducted dozens of simulations for neonatal units and maternity centers statewide. This training focuses on high-risk scenarios that smaller hospitals may not typically experience due to lower patient volumes.

Riley’s efforts, combined with those with other statewide partners, are already bearing fruit. Preliminary data released by the State Department of Health in fall 2020 shows the statewide infant mortality rate fell from 6.8 per 1,000 live births in 2018 to 6.5 in 2019 -- the lowest rate since record-keeping began in 1900.


While 2020 was a year like no other, Riley – with the help of donors – rose to the challenge.

“This year has been challenging, but beyond that, it's been inspiring,” Paul R. Haut, M.D., told donors in November during Riley Children’s Foundation virtual Riley Rally. “And it's shown that nothing could ever stand in the way of our commitment to kids. Nothing can extinguish our Riley magic.”

Riley Blogger

The Riley Blog is written and/or edited by members of the Riley Children's Foundation Communications Staff.

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